Left Field: “Power to Be Strong”
Going Public About His Positive Serostatus, Nicholas Snow Proves that Life Is a Song
by Patricia Nell Warren
Since the 1980s, well over a hundred pop songs about HIV/AIDS were released—mostly in the West. An Eastern newcomer to the list is “The Power To Be Strong,” produced by a Thailand-based international team. The song is now the cornerstone of a worldwide HIV testing and safer sex awareness campaign. The haunting music video features a performance by internationally known actor/singer/songwriter/activist and entertainment reporter Nicholas Snow, who is living with HIV himself. The single was released earlier this year on iTunes, with the video premiering April 25 in Mumbai, India, (with Hindi subtitles) and in Bangkok (with Thai subtitles) on July 15 in partnership with the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Center.
According to the team, HIV is not “real” for most Thai people—in the absence of public figures living with HIV, as well as little public dialogue about these issues. Openly HIV-positive people are virtually invisible, non-existent in Asia. Nicholas decided to step forward and be the example of a public face.
With the song already going viral on the Internet, I interviewed Nicholas by e-mail.
Patricia Nell Warren: More and more American ex-pats are moving to Thailand. What was your main reason for moving there?
Nicholas Snow: In my role as publisher of NotesFromHollywood.com, I was invited to the Bangkok International Film Festival three years in a row beginning in 2004. In the second year, I was asked to be the key moderator of press conferences for world media with the likes of Michael Douglas, Gerard Butler, Jeremy Irons, Oliver Stone, Willem Dafoe, and others. Add to this the enchantment of being in a Buddhist country and a tropical environment with offerings such as motorcycle taxis, delicious and inexpensive street food, and a truly international community, and I was hooked.
What was the biggest surprise that you encountered in Thai culture?
I am most surprised at the level of acceptance of transgender women in Thai culture, and how they move through society without anyone batting an eye, except for some tourists. There is a lot of work to do in terms of allowing transgender people to change their legal identity cards, but they have it easier here than in most places in the world, in my opinion. For myself, I never felt like I needed to adjust. It felt like coming home.
How has being out about your HIV status in Thailand changed your life?
My last HIV-negative test was in 2006 and I was confirmed HIV-positive in January 2008. How had it happened? After twenty-five years of practicing safe sex I did not use a condom when I should have. In my self-searching I realize I did this because (1) I was depressed at the time, not as focused on taking care of myself; (2) I was with someone who said and believed he was HIV-negative; (3) I had a false sense of security about remaining HIV-negative; and (4) I did not know that three out of ten MSM in Bangkok are HIV-positive. None of these are good reasons for not using a condom, but they are human reasons. In a world where “saving face” is paramount, I work to share perhaps the biggest mistake of my life—hopefully to inspire others to avoid following
in my footsteps. I went public in October 2008.
U.S. public-health policy seems to be moving in the hard-nosed direction of involuntary testing without informed consent, yet your campaign is strongly in favor of voluntary and informed testing? Why do you think that voluntary is a better approach?
In Thailand they are promoting “opt-out” testing with informed consent. I don’t think anyone should be forced to be tested if their ability to go on living their lives normally is not protected. I think we should do everything possible to inspire voluntary, routine testing.
Is the campaign taking off? Reaching other countries? I note your extraordinary interview in India with His Royal Highness Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil.
I met Prince Manvendra within two months of testing positive and we have become great friends. The music video premiered at Kashish—the Mumbai International Queer Film Festival—with Hindi subtitles, and the creators of the festival actually completed the video for me during the festival in time for its screening on the final day. Prince Manvendra said it provoked a powerful panel discussion afterwards. A major Mumbai newspaper published a story about the song. Back in Thailand, the song has garnered national media attention and a famous Thai recording artist—Eddie Autobahn—will record a Thai-language version. I want to follow the same model worldwide.
Any comment on the U.S. AIDS scene from your perch in Southeast Asia?
By the time this interview is published I believe I will have started ARVs. First-line ARVs in Thailand cost the equivalent of $100 US. With the healthcare crisis in the U.S. and my lack of medical insurance, I’m staying put. I am clearer than ever that this is a global issue and we all need to work together.
A wrap-up comment on this courageous effort of yours?
In the 1980s, I gave myself permission to follow my dreams because of what I learned about life from loved ones who were living with and dying from AIDS—to honor and express my life force in a way that makes a difference. They gave me the power to be strong. I am honored and privileged to pass it along.
Author of fiction bestsellers and provocative commentary, Patricia Nell Warren has her writings archived at www.patricianellwarren.com. Reach her by e-mail at patriciawarren [at] aol [dot] com.
For a limited time, Nicholas Snow is offering a free download of his song, “The Power to Be Strong.” Produced by a Thai team in partnership with the Thai Red Cross, the song is a testament to resilience. The creative forces behind the song hopes it will launch more sustained HIV/AIDS awareness in Thailand.
For more information and to view/share the video, log on to www.Facebook.com/ThePowerToBeStrong; www.ThePowerToBeStrong.com; and www.NicholasSnow.com
Play the Song…
Copyright © 2010 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.